Negotiating Aesthetics: an Interview with Kimia Maleki
Negotiating Aesthetics: an Interview with Kimia Maleki
For the last few months, Kimia Maleki has been working as a Curatorial Fellow, developing Toranj, an exhibition and publication that looks at how Persian carpets shape Western conceptions of the East. In her statement about the prospective show, Maleki writes: “Oriental rugs, mostly Persian ones, have been one of the East’s main forms of representation in the West…The Toranj exhibition brings together artists whose work has been influenced by not only the aesthetic features of the Oriental carpet, but also the concept and story of the warp and weft behind the completed rug.” In the following interview, we talk more about her work on this project. Kimia Maleki (M.A., School of the Art Institute of Chicago; B.A., University of the Arts, Tehran) is interested in historiography, archiving, and curatorial practice, especially as pertains to Iran. She is currently based in Chicago.
Caroline Picard: You have been a GLP Curatorial Fellow this fall 2018, working at Sector 2337 on your exhibition and publication, Toranj. Can you talk a little bit about the project?
Kimia Maleki: I was so lucky to be offered a fellowship by the Green Lantern Press to work extensively on the Toranj proposal and its publication. Being at the Sector 2337 was a unique chance that helped me to familiarize myself with an array of independent and creative-written books and publications by artists and experimental writers. Toranj is about the concept of Oriental carpets’ emanation in the field of Western Contemporary Art. Though, this permeation does not merely mean to explicitly and visually represent carpets. I am interested in the works of artists whose works has been influenced not only by the aesthetic features of the Oriental carpet, but also the concept and story of the warp and weft behind the completed rug. One of the important aspects of my research through the last few months was to read and write from the perspective of a creative writer. This was indeed an opportunity that would have not come through without being at the Green Lantern Press. Looking at my project through the lens of experimental writing provided me an opportunity to intuitively discover more reasons about why this project is important to me. Consequently, the process and conversations that were shaped at the Sector 2337 motivated me to continue the project and accomplish it.
CP: How did you get the idea for Toranj?
KM: For a long time I was interested in the works of contemporary artists who were bringing Oriental rugs into their works. With my background studying and designing carpets in Iran, I wanted to understand what would compel artists in a different geography than mine, to incorporate oriental rugs and motifs into their works. However, I believe this project requires me to be extra prudent throughout my research and curatorial perspective. Speaking and writing about the Orient and especially the geography that I come from has been a double edged issue for may years. It is hard to categorize artworks in, for instance, a broad and flat categories of “exotic” and “non-exotic”. There is no written boundaries for such taxonomy. That is why I think the role of curator is very crucial at this moment, to be the person to elucidate what the artist’s intention is in brining conventional patterns into her work. I always track the traces of carpets in the contemporary artworks and I wanted to understand the reasons artists use them. Is the artist excited to bring those materials into the work? If so, then why? Is their interest because of an internal and thrilling process during which they realize the aesthetic power of those objects? Or does the artist truly try to articulate a set of arguments by bringing specific oriental motifs into the work? These are all the questions that I hope to answer through a potential exhibition. I understand the presumption is that the “the [Persian] carpet is beautiful,” but I am more interested in challenging this presumption and understanding who defines this beauty or what factors negotiate this aesthetic.
CP: How do you conceive a curator’s job?
KM: Many have talked about what a curator’s job is and I do not think that I want add to anything. However, to me the curator’s job involves working on something that the person really believes in it. I think this is very important to acknowledge. If we accept honesty as one of the most important aspects of artworks through history, meaning that the artwork was created by inner revelation from the mind of an artist, curatorial practice would not be so different thing. To me, I see curating as challenging and fruitful. I pick topics that indeed “matter” to me and I want to explore questions to which I have never found answers elsewhere and am not sure anybody else cares about. The Toranj is also entangled with my other projects both at the Art Institute of Chicago, where I had a chance to curate rotations of Islamic Art gallery cases, and also my previous exhibition Sedentary Fragmentation that I researched about the role of Iranian art students in Chicago since 1960. I accept that working with contemporary artists has its own challenges in terms of logistics, dialogues, and issues that come up through the human interactions. Though, I see the reciprocal conversations that happen through the way, very rewarding and productive. For Toranj, I intend to weave the history part by brining two artists from 20th century and juxtapose their works with more recent ones.
CP: What is it like to work on a project about Iranian culture, material production, and history from the American Midwest?
KM: I am glad that you are asking this question since I myself also think so often about my current geography. I would say that everyday while I am in a street and encounter the flatness of the city, I am reminded that I am in the Midwest. This flatness is a thing that keeps recurring to me since I grew up in mountainous Tehran and I heavily feel the absence of mountains in Chicago. However, if I were not in the Midwest, I might have not asked these questions since all my interests about the collection and representation of Islamic and Iranian art began by asking how these collections came to the U.S and specifically the Midwest? Who were the figures behind these transferring and why they did so? Shaping my knowledge of sources on this topic, I felt that nowhere could be better than Chicago to offer me such understanding by providing me access to archives, libraries and more importantly individuals that could help me along the way (like you).